In DepthEnvironment

Brazilian president attacks deforestation data

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Science  02 Aug 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6452, pp. 419
DOI: 10.1126/science.365.6452.419

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  • RE: While denying science, Mr. Bolsonaro’s policies are threatening ecosystem services in Amazonia and the sustainable development of South America
    • GERMAN POVEDA, Full Professor, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Medellín, Colombia
    • Other Contributors:
      • CARLOS A. NOBRE, Researcher, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of São Paulo, Brazil
      • JHAN CARLO ESPINOZA, Researcher, Institut de Recherche Pour le Développement (IRD), France

    In addition to disregarding the overwhelming scientific evidence, Mr. Bolsonaro's policies are seriously threatening the provision of fundamental ecosystem services in the Amazon River basin (ARB), including water supply, and the sustainable development of South America beyond Brazil, including other Amazonian countries (Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, and Suriname) and southeastern South America. Ever since Mr. Bolsonaro took office deforestation in the ARB skyrocketed at greater rates than official estimates (1), mainly due to deregulation (halting deforestation inspections and fines to deforesters). Deforestation is associated with serious observed and predicted impacts on the environmental functioning of one of the tipping points of the Earth’s system (2), including: (i) large-scale dieback of rainforests (3-5), (ii) their shift into savannas due to decreasing precipitation (6-9) its recycled component and the transport of moisture by the winds within and outside the ARB (10-15), (iii) drastically reducing ecosystem services of planetary importance (carbon sequestration, hydrological regulation, evaporative cooling, atmospheric oxygen and biodiversity); (iv) disrupting hydroclimatic and biogeochemical mechanisms of the Andes-Amazon system (16, 17); (v) decreasing the transport of water vapor to the Andes and tropical glaciers, already retreating by global warming (18,19), thus (vi) threatening water supply for major cities (Bogotá, Lima, Quito...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Independent confirmation of Brazil’s rapidly rising deforestation in 2019
    • Steffen Fritz, Acting Director - Ecosystems Services and Management Program, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
    • Other Contributors:
      • Olha Danylo, Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
      • Victor Maus, Research Scholar, Institute for Ecological Economics, Vienna University of Economics and Business; IIASA
      • Linda See, Senior Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
      • Florian Hofhansl, Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
      • Ian McCallum, Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
      • Michael Obersteiner, Senior Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

    Re: “Brazilian president attacks deforestation data”, v.365(6452), pp.419

    In the past, Brazil has made positive strides in reducing the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, reaching an all-time low in 2012. Although the subsequent weakening of Brazil’s Forest Code resulted in a rise in deforestation after 2012, a much more alarming increase was reported in July 2019 by INPE, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, based on their DETER deforestation alert system. Compared to previous years, there was a sharp rise in deforestation starting during the month of May with 50% more deforestation in 2019 (1 January to 24 July 2019) compared to the same period in 2018. This rise has been disputed by the new Brazilian government including calling these numbers “a lie” (Escobar, 2019).

    We investigated the areas of alert provided by the DETER system using the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites, corroborating the levels and the rapid rise in deforestation highlighted by INPE. DETER currently uses a combination of the sensor WFI from CBERS-4 (China–Brazil Earth Resources Satellite 4) and AwiFS from IRS (Indian Remote Sensing Satellite) to provide near real-time deforestation alerts. We downloaded the alerts for May to July 2018 and 2019 from the INPE website ( and imported those alerts specifically referring to clear cut deforestation (DESMATAMENTO_CR) into Google Eart...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.